Employee Engagement

“Around the world, employee engagement is eroding.” This was Mercer’s pessimistic conclusion in a report on staff attitudes to work and employers.

However, this is not just a function of the financial constraints affecting Europe and North America as employee engagement is falling at similar rates in Latin America and Asia, which have largely been insulated from the worst of the downturn.

The report’s authors, Mercer global leader of employee research Patrick Gilbert and America’s leader of employee research Pete Foley, suggest high engagement levels can contribute significantly to an organisation’s performance and also fulfil employees’ human needs of connection to something worthwhile.

In the UK, 36% of employees are seriously considering leaving their current workplace while almost a quarter (23%) are not committed either way, a state the report claims is least engaged of all.

Pay is the biggest motivator for UK workers and almost two-thirds (61%) said they were motivated by incentive or bonus pay, with half (49%) believing the performance for a good job was recognised.

Encouragingly, UK workers are responding to workplace benefits, with 30% (up from 25% in 2005) saying benefits were key to joining their current organisation and 36% (unchanged) adding that benefits were key to staying.

A similar number also said they wanted greater control in their benefits structure, with some willing to personally pay for better offerings. A good pension plan was the fourth most important form of recognition, but only a third (35%) felt employers were preparing them for retirement.

Only in one European country out of the seven surveyed were more employees considering leaving their present job (Italy, 40%) than in the UK, although Ireland was just behind (35%).This indicates that UK businesses still have a fair way to go when competing with rivals across the continent.

One of the problems cited in the report is the changing perspective of managers in European businesses. The authors noted: “As a result of the recession, managers have become increasingly business- and task-focused, rather than people-focused, tending more to bottom lines and business goals than to people management and investments in rewards, training and career opportunities.”

They warn that the failure to re-establish an affinity with employees poses serious problems for employers’ talent pools and “leaves a pervasive malaise unchecked among a growing population of disaffected workers”.

Given the integration of workplace benefits in Canada and the US, it is perhaps not surprising that employees from both countries more readily recognise their importance in choosing and staying with organisations than UK staff.

In Canada, half (48%) said benefits played a significant role in staying with an employer, compared to 53% (up from 48% in 2005) in the US.

Almost half (45%, up from 35%) of US employees also agreed that benefits were a factor in joining a company.

Overall, the authors noted that, having accepted the era of regular pay rises and generous benefits is gone for good, employees believe employers are now not delivering on the perceived new deal, which includes greater training to enhance future employability and pay based on performance.

But with nowhere else to go, disengaged employees are staying, a situation that is “not healthy for organisations or workers”.

The authors concluded by highlighting that employers need to “consider how to protect and enhance engagement when traditional methods are not available or no longer effective”.


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